Saturday, January 28, 2012

One Year Anniversary!

Today marks one full year since I began this little blog.

One year since I first made an entrance.

One year of writing posts every single weekday, rain or shine, happy or sad.

A year of recipes and reading links, of photographs and holidays celebrated together.

I have a lot of thoughts about how this year has gone, and how the experience of producing this blog has shaped me and my reflections on food.  I hope to devote my next few blog posts to sharing some of those thoughts, as I consider what comes next for Dining and Opining. (And, as always, I wholeheartedly welcome your input). What will almost certainly come next is a bit of a pause, and a bit of a re-structuring. I likely won't be posting every day this week, and may not establish a regular rhythm right away. Whichever way it goes, I'll keep posted.

But, for now, I want to THANK YOU for being along for the ride, for reading and thinking with me, for commenting (either on the blog or in person) and letting me know that what I write means something to you.

That means SO MUCH to me. And I can't thank you enough for it.

Thank You, D&O Readers!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Comfort Food

I recently read this beautiful article, Showing Compassion Through the Gift of Food, at, and was flooded with memories of all the times friends have taken care of me by sharing a meal or a treat.

It made me want to share these photos with you, of a recent meal--full of Southern comfort food--that our friends SB and JB made for us to help us through some rough times.

A pan of delicious barbecue tofu and crock pot full of golden grits:

Stewed greens and barbecue sauce, along with an assortment of delicious pickled peppers and tomatoes:

Crispy, buttery cornbread and perfect gluten-free apple tarts:

The whole meal came together like a dream, and kept us full and warm (in our bellies, and our hearts) for days to come.

Like the author of the above article told her six-year-old daughter, "when you make people food with your hands, it can help them feel better."

How have friends offered you solace through food in times past?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Food Job Opportunities

In the past couple of years, I've been really excited about two new initiatives that have cropped up: FoodCorps (a public service program dedicated to bringing good food to limited-resource communities) and Food Day (a day in promotion of healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way).

Now, as it turns out, they are both hiring! Both, at the same time!

You've gotta check this out:  



And Food Day, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (an awesome organization in its own right):

Food Day - Accepting applications for spring internship. Applications for summer internships will be considered in February/March.
Food Day is a major national event that CSPI is sponsoring this October. The goal is to educate the public and support policy measures on such issues as diet and health, sustainable agriculture, farm-animal welfare, and food insecurity. Interns will help develop materials, identify and work with local activists around the country, and answer inquiries from the public about how to get involved in Food Day.  More information here!

(They're also seeking summer interns for Health Promotion Policy, Nutrition Policy, Food Safety, and Litigation).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ode to the Onion

A beauty from Pablo Neruda:

Ode To The Onion 
by Pablo Neruda 

luminous flask, 
your beauty formed 
petal by petal, 
crystal scales expanded you 
and in the secrecy of the dark earth 
your belly grew round with dew. 
Under the earth 
the miracle 
and when your clumsy 
green stem appeared, 
and your leaves were born 
like swords 
in the garden, 
the earth heaped up her power 
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea 
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite 
duplicating the magnolia, 
so did the earth 
make you, 
clear as a planet 
and destined 
to shine, 
constant constellation, 
round rose of water, 
upon the table 
of the poor. 

You make us cry without hurting us. 
I have praised everything that exists, 
but to me, onion, you are 
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers, 
heavenly globe, platinum goblet, 
unmoving dance 
of the snowy anemone 

and the fragrance of the earth lives 
in your crystalline nature. 

I originally saw this left-aligned, but I really like the onion-like bulbous shapes that emerge when it is center-aligned. Yes?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Root Quilt!

How beautiful is that?

You might think it's some image I pulled off the web, but it's not! It is, in fact, a small quilt that my dearest friend AMM made for me by hand!

It came in the mail yesterday, just in time to cheer me in a deep and touching way as the semester began. I think it's one of the most beautiful works of art I've ever seen, and for now, am displaying it as such--over our bed in our bedroom:

The actual image (inspired by this Pinterest pin) really resonates with me, with its beautiful cross section of sky and earth, of blue and brown. The way the colorful roots are nestled below ground with their green leaves above ground creates all kinds of aesthetic harmony for me.

I love it beyond (any more) words. Thank you, amm.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Food on This American Life

I (along with other white people) love This American Life.

And so when looking for audio recordings about food and family for my seminar, I naturally turned to Ira Glass and the others at Chicago Public Radio for inspiration.

I figured I'd start a running list of episodes to listen to here so that I could come back to them, and so I could ask you all for recommendations or reviews. Be in touch!

117: You Gonna Eat That? [Whole episode]
The family table is stage on which many family dramas are played out. We hear three stories...of three three meals.

110: Mapping [Act Five]
LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold goes to the places on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles that he visited back in the early 1980s. He tells the story of how he decided to map an entire street using his sense of taste, and how doing this changed his life. (13 minutes)

62: Something for Nothing [Act Three]
Tao Of The Dumpster. Writer Dirk Jamison, who gave up a 9-to-5 job and succeeded in getting something for nothing: he decided he'd feed the family by diving into dumpsters for free food. His father's very zen attitude about this, and how it affected the family. Dirk is the author of Perishable: A Memoir. (16 minutes)

264: Special Treatment [Act One, and Act Four]
  • Act One. Lunchtime With The King Of Ketchup. Jonathan Goldstein with a story of the kind of preferential treatment we all dream of, where waiters routinely bring us extra appetizers on the house, delivery men throw a little something special into our take-out orders, and deli owners regularly comp us free pickles and chips. He talks with his friend Howard, who lives this dream, about all the work that went into making it a reality. (16 minutes) 
  • Act Four. The Way To A Boy's Heart Is Through His Stomach. Lisa Carver's nine-year-old son, Wolfgang, was born with a rare illness that, among other things, makes it impossible for him to eat anything by mouth. He's fed through a g-tube, straight into his stomach. But he remembers fondly what food tastes like, and he misses it. And, because we eat all the time, he's constantly watching people do the one thing he wants desperately to do—but can't. Lisa talks about how the people at school—and everyone in Wolfgang's life, really—go out of their way to help him in his private war with his own desire. (10 minutes) 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Georgia Thali

While visiting my parents in Georgia, we had our first experience with thali, otherwise known as "a unique experience in gourmet eating" through Indian vegetarian cuisine.
JH did some searching on for the highest-rated restaurants in the area, and came across Vatica Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, which immediately caught our eye. Vegetarian! Indian! All You Can Eat! $8.99! Thali!

What's there not to love?

So, we made it there faster than you could say lickety-split, and soon were treated to this feast:

This traditional thali preparation offers a range of different curries in separate bowls, along with rice and other accoutrements. In this particular case, we got (beginning with the bread at the bottom and moving clockwise): roti (flatbread), a sweet treat made of rice flour, raita (yogurt sauce), a bean curry, potato-pea curry, malai kofta (like vegetarian meatballs), daal (lentil soup), basmati rice, and in the middle, some sort of potato bite with cilantro sauce, and papadam (thin, crispy cracker). 

It was all delicious--though in a subtle and comforting way, not in a knock-your-socks-off-flavorful-Indian kind of way. And there were unlimited refills on all of it! So, by the end of the meal, we were looking like this:

Although the food was satisfying, the real highlight of the place were the friendly owner and his quirky co-owner uncle. We told them it was our first time at the restaurant, and that we were from out of state, so the quirky uncle came up specially to talk to us, and to laugh very loudly and buoyantly with us, at unexpected moments. He was a real character.

Perhaps this sign that was posted in the restaurant can give a glimpse into some of his silliness:

When I asked "Is that really what VATICA stands for?," he responded by laughing, you guessed it, loudly and bouyantly.

Oh, and in addition to the thali, the signs on the restaurant window promised "tasty snacks," which they delivered, in the form of this spicy Indian trail mix (often known as chevda, or Bombay mix), and these sweet date-coconut-nut treats:

All in all,  dining at Vatica was a delight, and I encourage you all to go out looking for some thali and quirky proprietors of your own!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Food Writing Exercises

As the spring semester approaches, I'm doing my best to plan for the small seminar I'll be teaching called Eating and Memory (described previously in this post).

Because I got such helpful feedback and guidance last time (thanks, SW!) when I asked for help, I figured I'd try it again, this time with less a focus on readings than on writing exercises.

I'm trying to structure each class around some sharing, reading, and writing, and so would like to have a whole bank of writing exercises to rely on as I put together the class schedule.

I have some early ideas, but would really love more of them from any of you who like to write, teach writing, have taken great writing classes, or just have ideas about how to spur good writing, particularly in the genre of creative nonfiction.

Some of what I've come up with so far:
  • Try to write a portrait of a person by describing a food, a meal, or an eating experience.
  • Try to write a portrait of a place by describing a food, a meal, or an eating experience. 
  • Look at the food [apple? Oreo cookie? Chex mix?) in front of you]. Write your associations, memories, ideas, descriptions for 3 minutes, based on sight only. Now smell it, and write about that. Now pick it up and move it around in your hands. Write. Now bite into it. Write.
  • Spend ten minutes writing a short story based on the title _______. "In Grandma's Kitchen," or "Craving the Food of Childhood" or "The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie I've Ever Had.
  • List the contents of your refrigerator (either in your dorm room, or at home) . Choose two or three items and write a story about why they are in your refrigerator.
  •  Look at the food [again, what options?] in front of you. Describe it from the perspective of a elderly woman whose husband has just died, but do so without mentioning the husband explicitly. Now describe it from the perspective of a new father. Now from the perspective of a chef on his first day on the job out of culinary school.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Values, Ignorance, and Seafood: Some Quick Thoughts

A special treat today--a guest post by the husband, JH:

When non-vegetarians ask me about my (almost) vegetarianism, I brace myself for one of two responses. First, there is what I like to call “the Oklahoma response.” This typically involves one form or another of deliberate crassness: either a reminder that meat tastes good, or a suggestion that caring about the well-being of non-human animals is na├»vely soft-hearted. (My father's comments usually fall into this category, as when he gleefully tells people that my vegetarianism is merely “a fad” that the kids are following these days.) The second response is what I call “the Madison response.” The Madison response usually involves a lot of vigorous nodding, perhaps followed by an admission that my interlocutor is sympathetic to vegetarianism—maybe she/he even tried it once!—but an explanation that for one reason or another, she/he still eats meat, often with some degree of guilt.  My mother exemplifies one strain of this response. On those occasions when I've mentioned some difficult-to-stomach aspect of industrial animal agriculture to her, her response is nearly always the same: “I don't want to know about it!”

I can relate to this response. Modern industrial agriculture is an ugly thing, filled with harrowing tales of tiny cages, unanesthetized mutilations, giant manure pits that seep into the water supply, and much more. It is a system with enormous environmental consequences, and where the lives of animals are often nasty, brutish, and short. For a lot of people, a long hard look at the system would probably not allow them to continue their usual way of eating with equanimity. It's all much easier if we just fail to learn about the problems involved, lest they trouble our consciences.

I don't mean for this to sound belittling. As I said, I can certainly relate to such a frame of mind. Despite having read my fair share of PeterSinger's work on global poverty, AZ and I just took a vacation to Puerto Rico, just to get away from the Madison winters and get a little R&R. The money we spent in doing so could obviously have alleviated much more suffering had it been put to an alternate use. But if you'd mentioned that fact to me while I was lying on the beach, I probably would have told you that I didn't care to reflect on that fact at the moment.

Less dramatically, I admit that I practice a kind of willful ignorance about aspects of my diet as well. Unlike AZ, I'm not a strict vegetarian, but a pescatarian: I eat fish or crustaceans about once a week. I do this in part for variety and in part for the nutritional value, but mostly I eat fish just because I like it. For me, there's nothing like a delicious Wisconsin Fish Fry on a Friday night to cap off a long week.

While I think some types of seafood consumption are not ruled out by any of my reasons for being a vegetarian, I sometimes find myself slipping into the “I don't want to know” mindset, especially when it comes to eating species that are overfished, or for which the methods of harvest are deeply environmentally destructive. I carry the Monterey Bay guide in my wallet, but sometimes I don't look at it, for fear that it won't give me the answer I desire.

All of this is a recipe for cognitive dissonance. But this might be about to change. For I'm finally reading a book that Anna got me for my birthday a few years ago, Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. (The other book I'm reading right now is Moby Dick. I must be in an aquatic phase.)  I'm only a couple of chapters into the book right now, but it's exactly the kind of resource that someone like me could use to bring my eating habits more into alignment with my values. The author reviews the different methods of commercial fishing and some of their less savory effects--environmental destruction, large levels of bycatch, depleted stocks.  Each chapter deals with a different species of fish, and some of the costs and benefits involved in the process that takes the fish from ocean to plate.  You also get some amusing anecdotes wherein the author grills 4-star chefs about the ethics of their seafood choices. At the end, he gives a list of fish to eat and those to avoid. For those interested, here they are:

AVOID: Bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, Atlantic Halibut, Chilean Sea Bass, Grouper, Monkfish, Orange Roughy, Dogfish Shark, Skate, Atlantic Sole, Tilefish.

EAT: Arctic Char, Pacific Halibut, Herring, Jellyfish, Mackerel, Mullet, Oysters/Mussels, Pollock, Sablefish, Sardines, Squid, Trout, Whiting.

Of course, such a one-size-fits-all list is bound to gloss over a number of differences within species concerning where and how they are raised/caught. But for those looking to exercise a little more thought in their seafood choices, books like this one, or even just the above list, might provide a good place to start.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trader Joe's

There's a great piece in the Los Angeles magazine about the secret behind the success of Trader Joe's, the popular grocery store chain specializing in low-price gourmet and quick-fix item: Enchanted Aisles.

Getting a peek into this store that has traditionally resisted journalistic attention is fascinating. 

Trader Joe's has been a divisive store in Madison, where it takes away business from the much-loved Willy St. Co-op, but doesn't offer the same connection to local farmers or the emphasis on products that are sustainable in a bigger way. Still, the exciting range of products and the large organic offerings to bring customers back again and again.

What do you think of Trader Joe's? What are the pros and the cons? And why do people keep coming back?